That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is on excerpt:
The most striking feature of her team’s plan, called “Leveling the Playing Field for America’s Family Farmers,” is what it doesn’t call for: namely, an abolition of farm subsidies, a reform favored by virtually all economists. Those payments often run more than $20 billion a year, and are typically considered an inefficient form of crony capitalism.
Warren’s document asserts that “food prices aren’t going down.” That’s true but misleading. When the Federal Reserve is targeting near 2 percent inflation, most prices in the economy will rise steadily over time. The link behind that claim, to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, offers some recent data, but it is hardly damning: In 2018, it notes, retail food prices rose 0.4 percent. “This was the first increase in 3 years, but the rate was still below the 20-year historical annual average of 2.0 percent.” Or how terrible are these numbers, from the same report: “In 2019, price growth may continue to remain low at the grocery store. Food-at-home prices are expected to rise between 0.5 and 1.5 percent, as potentially the fourth year in a row with deflating or lower-than-average inflating retail food prices.”
A look at the longer-term historical data also shows slow, steady inflation in the food and beverage sector, rather than a recent crisis of price spikes. Food price inflation does become higher after 1973, but that is probably due to higher energy prices and the more general productivity slowdown that has plagued the U.S. economy.
In this context, Warren’s lengthy complaints about monopoly and market power in the food sector just don’t seem that persuasive. Furthermore, America’s food sector has been remarkably innovative in terms of product choice and rising diversity of options.
Warren also calls for greater agricultural protectionism and the banning of foreign investment in American farmland. And she is supposed to be the leading policy thinker in the race? People, this is not good, and furthermore it is the same tiresome “tested by social media let’s bash the corporate villains” set of cliches. My close:
If American voters want to be inspired, then opposing seed-company mergers won’t be nearly enough.
Should we pay people not to commit crime? Could we? Murat Mungan from GMU Law shows that it could pay in principle:
This article considers the possibility of simultaneously reducing crime, prison sentences, and the tax burden of financing the criminal justice system by introducing positive sanctions, which are benefits conferred to individuals who refrain from committing crime. Specifically, it proposes a procedure wherein a part of the imprisonment budget is re-directed towards financing positive sanctions. The feasibility of reducing crime, sentences, and taxes through such reallocations depends on how effectively the marginal imprisonment sentence reduces crime, the crime rate, the effectiveness of positive sanctions, and how accurately the government can direct positive sanctions towards individuals who are most responsive to such policies. The article then highlights an advantage of positive sanctions over imprisonment in deterring criminal behavior: positive sanctions operate by transferring or creating wealth, whereas imprisonment operates by destroying wealth. Thus, the conditions under which positive sanctions are optimal are broader than those under which they can be used to jointly reduce crime, sentences, and taxes. The analysis reveals that when the budget for the criminal justice system is exogenously given, it is optimal to use positive sanctions when the imprisonment elasticity of deterrence is small, which is a condition that is consistent with the empirical literature. When the budget for the criminal justice system is endogenously determined, it is optimal to use positive sanctions as long as the marginal cost of public funds is not high.
Hat tip: Kevin Lewis.
The title is “Temperature and Decisions: Evidence from 207,000 Court Cases,” the authors are Anthony Heyes and Soodeh Saberian, and here is the abstract:
We analyze the impact of outdoor temperature on high-stakes decisions (immigration adjudications) made by professional decision-makers (US immigration judges). In our preferred specification, which includes spatial, temporal, and judge fixed effects, and controls for various potential confounders, a 10°F degree increase in case-day temperature reduces decisions favorable to the applicant by 6.55 percent. This is despite judgements being made indoors, “protected” by climate control. Results are consistent with established links from temperature to mood and risk appetite and have important implications for evaluating the influence of climate on “cognitive output.”
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
…step back and consider two 19th-century “classical economists” who focused on high rents: David Ricardo and Henry George. Both built models where land is so scarce that the cost of renting land absorbs most of the social surplus. We are not (yet?) at that point, but these models give insight into where today’s most expensive cities are headed.
Consider an increase in the quality of public services — say, garbage collection, or perhaps in San Francisco the elimination of public urination. You might think that would make life much better for everyone. But in a Ricardo-George model, that is not the case. Mainly what happens is that rents go up and landowners capture most of the newly created surplus.
How would this work? Take the example of San Francisco; with nicer streets, even more people might want to move there. That would push up rents by an amount roughly equal to the value created — putting the gains from the higher quality of life into the pockets of landowners. In a normal market economy, those higher rents would then induce more construction and, eventually, a corresponding decline in rents. But San Francisco is a “not in my backyard” locale where the amount of new construction just isn’t that high, for legal and regulatory reasons. Again, as both Ricardo and George realized, the incidence of the benefit falls upon the very scarce factor, namely land.
The political economy problem now should be obvious: Why exactly would non-landowners press for improvements in their cities? The value of those improvements will be captured mainly by other parties.
There is much more at the link.
I spoke recently at Brookings on the movement to eliminate cash bail. I think we hold too many people pre-trial and the use of judicial aids such as algorithms could safely increase the number of people released prior to trial as well as reduce the variance and disparity of treatment. Nevertheless, I think eliminating cash bail is a poorly thought out idea that may very well backfire. The proponents of eliminating cash bail also present a misleading picture of who is held on bail, the focus of my remarks at Brookings.
I was the only one at the event to oppose eliminating cash bail and I think the audience was a bit shell-shocked. Certainly, not everyone on the panel agreed with my comments. The American Bail Coalition posted the clip from CSPAN but otherwise had nothing to do with my remarks which begin around 35 seconds in.
Why Do States Privatize their Prisons? The Unintended Consequences of Inmate Litigation.” (Job market paper).
The United States has witnessed privatization of a variety of government functions over the last three decades. Media and politicians often attribute the decision to privatize to ideological commitments to small government and fiscal pressure. These claims are particularly notable in the context of prison privatization, where states and the federal government have employed private companies to operate and manage private correctional facilities. I argue state prison privatization is not a function of simple ideological or economic considerations. Rather, prison privatization has been a (potentially unintended) consequence of the administrative and legal costs associated with litigation brought by prisoners. I assemble an original database of prison privatization in the US and demonstrate that the privatization of prisons is best predicted by the legal pressure on state corrections systems, rather than the ideological orientation of a state government. PDF of most recent version here, comments welcome. Appendix here.
Do Private Prison Companies Suffer When Inmates Win Lawsuits? The central claim of my dissertation argues it is the advent of inmates’ rights and rising prisoner litigation that contributed to the rise of prison privatization in the state. A separate dissertation chapter considers this relationship from the viewpoint of the business: is it the case that the economic future of the company is vulnerable to the announcement of successful court orders? I use event study methodology and find I find that on aggregate, investors are not particularly concerned with these judicial decrees. Rather, investors respond to the lawsuits in those states that are the most consequential for private prison firms’ business. This chapter fleshes out the behavior of private prison companies and provides further empirical evidence for the central claim of the dissertation, that private prison firms are indeed vulnerable to the announcement of court orders.
Those are new papers by Anna Gunderson, Ph.D candidate in political science from Emory, starting at Louisiana State, and I note she just won the Elinor and Vincent Ostrom award from the Public Choice Society. Here is her home page.
Is there a case for a system that sometimes produces undemocratic outcomes? I think so, on two grounds. First, it creates incentives for political parties and candidates to seek supermajorities rather than just playing for 50.1 percent, because the latter play is a losing one more often than in a popular-vote presidential system.
Second, it creates incentives for political parties to try to break regional blocs controlled by the opposition, rather than just maximizing turnout in their own areas, because you win the presidency consistently only as a party of multiple regions and you can crack a rival party’s narrow majority by flipping a few states.
According to this — admittedly contrarian — theory, the fact that the Electoral College produces chaotic or undemocratic outcomes in moments of ideological or regional polarization is actually a helpful thing, insofar as it drives politicians and political hacks (by nature not the most creative types) to think bigger than regional blocs and 51 percent majorities.
That is from the NYT, he also considers some arguments against.
This account has some gloomy rhetoric, but doesn’t drum up such an awful scenario, for instance:
Among the little-noticed impacts: U.K. citizens and businesses will no longer be able to register internet sites using the .eu domain, and any U.K. entities that currently have such sites will not be able to renew them.
As mentioned, no doubt British truckers would be badly hurt, but what else? This sounds correct to me:
Tariffs would be reimposed. They are as high as 74 percent for tobacco, 22 percent for orange juice, and 10 percent for automobiles. That would hurt exporters. Some of that pain would be offset by a weaker pound.
Is this the biggest danger?:
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned medical drug companies to expect six months of “significantly reduced access” to the main trade routes between Britain and Continental Europe if there is a no-deal Brexit.
This one seems exaggerated:
“Bodies may remain uncollected and children might miss exams due to gridlocked roads in the event of a no-deal Brexit”, the report said.
So people, what’s the deal? Put aside the longer and medium-term effects on gdp and the like, what are the greatest short-run dangers of a hard Brexit in the weeks to come? Or is it a big, overstated worry, the new Y2K?
A proposal to open a halal butchery facility in Alexandria hit a snag Saturday after some local business owners and dog owners objected. DC Poultry Market wants to open a facility that would sell fresh, humanely killed chickens on Colvin Street in a mostly industrial area of Alexandria between Duke Street and railroad tracks. There are no residential properties in the immediate area, but pet businesses abound: Pinnacle Pet Spa & More, Frolick Dogs, Dogtopia, and the Wholistic Hound Academy.
Therein lay a problem. Though city staff and Alexandria’s planning commission recommended approving DC Poultry Market’s application, dog lovers showed up to the Alexandria City Council’s March 16 meeting to object on olfactory grounds (“My dog can smell when there’s a cookie down the block,” one resident said) and on proximity to poultricide (“Knowing that my dogs may be walked by a business that holds chickens in a windowless room before their throats are slit while fully conscious does not make me feel that my dogs are in a safe environment,” another said).
Here is the full story, via Bruce A. Few seem to be complaining about the chickens.
But holding the government to account is one thing, setting the agenda another. The Brexit crisis has shown this. In January and February, when MPs tabled amendments that would truly empower backbenchers — by giving them control of what is debated in the Commons, or setting up voting systems for MPs to rank different Brexit options — the majority stepped back. “I think the most remarkable thing is how unsuccessful we’ve been in taking control,” says one shadow minister. Faced with a choice of now or never, MPs generally decided it couldn’t be now. Only this week did they become bolder, rejecting May’s deal for a second time. In response, the government agreed to facilitate a vote on different Brexit options if they rejected it a third time.
“The last two years have thrown into sharp relief the things that parliament is good at and the things it is not good at. It is generally not good at legislating,” says Lisvane. “The things that have gone really well are select committees.”
That is from a long FT piece by Henry Mance, perhaps the best article I have read this week.
The award-winning writer Francis Spufford has spent three years on a new novel for the CS Lewis Chronicles of Narnia series despite not having permission from the Lewis estate….
Spufford, who has printed 75 copies and distributed them free to friends and fellow writers, said it was “not intended to get out into the world unless, long shot, I come to terms with the estate”.
The Lewis estate has resisted all entreaties to continue the Narnia novels, the last of which was published in 1956 by Lewis, who died in 1963. His work remains in copyright until 2034.
Yes, there will be a public event at GMU Arlington on April 8, a Conversations with Tyler, you can register here. So what should I ask her?
Many people were surprised at Paul Manafort’s relatively light sentencing for bank fraud, filing fake tax returns, and failure to report foreign assets and compared his sentence of 47 months to other cases of seemingly lesser crimes given longer prison terms. A viral tweet thread from public defender Scott Hechinger began:
For context on Manafort’s 47 months in prison, my client yesterday was offered 36-72 months in prison for stealing $100 worth of quarters from a residential laundry room.
Anecdotes, however, run the risk of misleading if they are not representative. The Bureau of Justice Statistics just released Time Served in State Prison 2016. Stealing laundry quarters sounds like larceny (no break in). The average time served for larceny was 17 months and the median time served was 11 months.
Hechinger also notes this outrageous case:
15 years in prison for drug possession. You shouldn’t need more info than that to be outraged. But then learn: Juanita is a mother of 6. Her 18 year old is now head of household. Raising 5 kids. Crime is not even a felony in Oklahoma anymore.
The average time served for drug possession was 15 months and the median time 10 months. Arguably too long but a far cry from 15 years.
For a serious violent crime like robbery, taking property by force or threat of force, the average time served was considerably higher, 4.7 years and the median time served 3.2 years.
You can see the table below for more data. Judge for yourselves, but for most crimes mean and median time served don’t seem to me to be obviously too high. Moreover, keep in mind that most crimes do not result in an arrest let alone a conviction or time served.
In 2017, for example, victims reported 2,000,990 serious violent crimes (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault). In the same year there were approximately 446,510 arrests for these crimes (crime definitions may not line up exactly). In other words, the chance of being arrested for a serious violent crime was only 22%. Data on convictions are harder to obtain but convictions are far fewer than arrests. In 2006 (most up-to-date data I could find but surely lower today) there were 175,500 convictions for serious violent crimes. Thus, considerably fewer than 10% of violent crimes result in a conviction (175,500/2,000,990=8.7%).
Put differently, the expected time served for a serious violent crime is less than 5 months*. Do you want to reduce expected time served? What I would like to do is put more police on the street to increase the certainty of arrest and conviction. If we double the conviction rate, I’d happily halve time served.
I support decriminalization of many crimes, shorter sentences for some crimes and fewer scarlet letter punishments. I want to reduce bias and variability in the criminal justice system. But I do not want to return to the crime rates of the past. Even as crime rates fall, we should be careful about declaring the war won and going home. We are under policed in the United States and despite anecdotes that rightly shock the conscience, average time served is not that high, especially given very low arrest and conviction rates.
* Using the normalized percent of total releases for rape, robbery and assault to form the weighted average. Corrected from an early version that said 14 months.
Maybe less than you might think, at least once you adjust for geographic distance:
Recent literature has shown that gender diversity in the boardroom seems to influence key monitoring decisions of boards. In this paper, we examine whether the observed relation between gender diversity and board decisions is due to a confounding factor, namely, directors’ geographic distance from headquarters. Using data on residential addresses for over 4,000 directors of S&P 1500 firms, we document that female directors cluster in large metropolitan areas and tend to live much farther away from headquarters compared to their male counterparts. We also reexamine prior findings in the literature on how boardroom gender diversity affects key board decisions. We use data on direct airline flights between U.S. locations to carry out an instrumental variables approach that exploits plausibly exogenous variation in both gender diversity and geographic distance. The results show that the effects of boardroom gender diversity on CEO compensation and CEO dismissal decisions found in the prior literature largely disappear when we account for geographic distance. Overall, our results support the view that gender-diverse boards are “tougher monitors” not because of gender differences per se, but rather because they are more geographically remote from headquarters and hence more reliant on hard information such as stock prices. The findings thus suggest that board gender policies, such as quotas, could have unintended consequences for some firms.
Using difference-in-differences and a novel break-detection approach I show that the introduction of a carbon tax has not ‘yet’ led to a significant reduction in aggregate CO2 emissions in British Columbia, Canada. Despite the lack of detectable aggregate effect, there are heterogeneous emission reductions across sectors: the tax led to a reduction in emissions from transportation incl. personal vehicles (-5%), buildings (-5%), waste processing (-3%), and light manufacturing, construction and forestry (-11%). Introducing a new method to assess policy based on breaks in difference-in-differences fixed effect panel models, I demonstrate that neither the carbon tax, nor the carbon price and emissions trading schemes introduced in other Canadian provinces are detected as significant interventions in aggregate emissions. The absence of significant aggregate reductions in emissions is consistent with existing evidence that current carbon taxes (and prices) are too low to be effective.
Since current carbon taxes are already not so popular, I don’t take this as especially good news. For the pointer I thank Warren Smith.